A weekend Mother – Daughter cycling trip inspired by Alex Howes own “Dirty Kanza” ride.
Back in May, I spotted something on Instagram that caught my eye—local pro Alex Howes posted that he’d be riding his bike from Nederland, CO, to the Kansas border for his own Dirty Kanza. My 17 year old (Bella) and I suddenly started dreaming bigger than our immediate riding stomping grounds.
With our endurance strong from endless COVID miles, we settled on a route from our hometown of Golden to Winter Park: around 60 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation gain including crossing over Berthoud pass at 11,307’elevation. We planned to ride and meet the rest of our family (including our Pandemic Puppy) in Winter Park, where we’d stay the night and then we’d all drive home the next day together.
That was the plan.
There are two types of people. Those who plan and those who truly think the plan through. I am in the former category, despite my best intentions. I thought casually of the ride — 65 miles didn’t seem like a big deal. Thinking of the route that we drove frequently to go skiing, I envisioned “a few big hills,” some switchbacks up the pass before rolling into Winter Park with a big satisfied smile on our faces.
“Should be fun,” I thought.
Another thing I casually thought that week was “Hmmm. My new brake pads are rubbing. I should do something about that.”
8:26 AM – I had coffee, a bagel and maybe some almonds.
8:40 AM – I threw in an assortment of snacks: an applesauce packet, a few packets of organic gummies for kids, a mini Clif bar. I THOUGHT about packing more, but didn’t.
8:45 AM (We planned to leave at 9)- I told my husband about the brake rub. The look both he and Bella gave me told me that I probably should have brought this up earlier. He adjusted it as best he could, said, “You really should take it to a bike shop.”
Me: “Nah. It will be fiiiiiiiine. Let’s go!”
9:18 AM – We start riding and Bella says, “I can HEAR your brakes rubbing. Are you SURE you don’t want to stop at a shop?”
– “Nah. It’s fine. Plus, it would take too long and we’d get too late of a start. Let’s just go.”
I was feeling good! Sure, the brakes were definitely rubbing, but I’ve got sprinter’s thighs. I can power through a lot, with the aid of flats and an occasional downhill. We’d settled into a good rhythm. We’d worked together for pacing and route-finding. I was marveling at how easy this was: how great we were doing. I was patting myself on the back for being such a great parent – how all the years of riding with our kids had culminated in a streak of biking brilliance during a really crappy year. Life was good.
And then we started to climb.
Somewhere between Dumont and Empire I bonked. I bonked hard. You know the feeling: pain, agony, hunger, slap-happiness, sadness and thirst all rolled into one. And as my bonk train chugged its way toward the hardest part of the ride —Berthoud Pass—, Bella did her very best to encourage me with a healthy dose of reality. At one point she lovingly pointed out that “we should probably be going faster. We’re going 5.2 miles an hour on the flats and we haven’t even reached the pass.”
-“I’m going as fast as I can.”
“Mommy (she still calls me ‘mommy’, which we both know is ridiculous, but we love it), you’re not this slow. If we keep going at this speed, we’re not going to make it.”
In my bonking delirium, I remember seeing a sign at the base that said there were 2 or so miles to the top. “That seems right. I can do THAT,” I thought to myself watching Bella pull further and further away up the road. The only company I had at that point was the “chuff-chuff-chuffing” sound of my front brake on every rotation – now FULLY rubbing. No question. As I came around the next switchback —at 46 miles / 9,555’ of elevation— Bella was patiently waiting on the side of the road, eating her banana. I was long out of food, long out of water, even though I’d had the opportunity to refuel about 10 miles back. She shared her banana with me, some water, and a gentle lecture. “Let’s talk about preparing yourself for a ride like this…”. It was all the things I’d said to her a million times over the years that she’d taken to heart. We were in full role reversal and I was beyond thankful to have her.
As I stood there, taking in her words, reexamining my poor life-choices, my head on my handlebars, a steady stream of tourists streamed past in their vehicles at a leisurely pace, with their windows down. One fine young gentleman stuck his head out the window and yelled, “YOU CHOSE THIS!” which was met with a cacophony of laughter from his car. That was my breaking point. I flipped him off with both hands. Bella burst out laughing. I began to cry.
“Mommy, you can do it. I know you can,” she said.
-“You’re right. I saw a sign back there. It’s only like 2.4 miles to the top. I can do it.”
Bella looked at me a bit funny, nodded vaguely and said, “Mmmm-hmmm. Okay. Ready to go?”
Her silence should have been an indication that I was wrong. But I was out of it. It was 2.4 miles to Jones Pass road. Totally different. There were still 6 miles until the top of Berthoud, with 1,741’ of climbing left. But my rage from the “YOU CHOSE THIS” comment combined with Bella’s encouragement powered me on.
The next 6 miles were straight-up ugly. But I made it to the pass with Bella cheering me on. She shared the last bit of her water with me before we started the descent, and led me into town.
Saturday’s Strava Activity (aka “YOU CHOSE THIS”) https://www.strava.com/activities/3783225215
The first thing we did upon rolling into our hotel room was chug water and ate anything we could get our hands on. We took over puppy duty so my husband and younger daughter could go for a hike.
The next thing I did was hobble to the bike shop —which conveniently was right next door— to get the brakes fixed. Red-faced and exhausted I recounted my mis-adventures to the mechanics. “Well, to be fair, there was a lot of rubbing here” they said. “Tomorrow should be better.”
Tomorrow. We’d packed extra clothes — just in case we wanted to ride back. And I’d given it serious thought back at mile 30 when I was feeling great, but now?
”You know, you’re right!” I exclaimed and grabbed an abundance of waffles, chomps, chews and slapped them on the counter.
That night we ate pizza on our hotel beds, collectively recounting our adventures. It turned out that Bella’s account of the man screaming from the window was totally different than mine. She said, “When he yelled that, I thought: ‘YEAH! You’re right! I did choose this. We should be enjoying this. It’s not too bad. It’s pretty up here!’ but then you were so sad and you said the thing about 2 miles to go and I didn’t have the heart to tell you how wrong you were.”
I laughed until I cried.
The Next Morning
The next morning, Bella and I rolled out with ample food and water, no chuffing sounds on my bike and the knowledge that we had 2,000 feet of climbing less than the previous day. I named the ride “ReDEEEEEEEEMED!!”
My main takeaways from this experience:
- Maintain your bike before it counts.
- Ride prepared – you’ll have more fun.
- Elevation is a thing – even if you “live at elevation”.
- Give the youth of today more credit.
- There’s always tomorrow.
*Special thanks to Alex Howes for expanding our adventure zones, to Beavers Sports Shop in Winter Park, and to my daughter, Bella for an epic weekend.
Love the story…..! esp. the descriptions of being ‘straight up ugly’.
True eloquence. And to be sure, relatable.
Keep up the fine work.